Global Mobility for Succession Planning


How global mobility can enrich your succession planning strategy.

Finding the right people remains one of the key challenges in business.

Competition for best talent is intense. The challenge becomes even more acute for senior level appointments, particularly where the requirements of a role demand international exposure and experience.

Identifying and investing in future leaders has become critical for organisations as part of a long-term approach to talent management and minimising internal skills gaps.

For multinational companies, existing talent offers a pool of potential candidates for future leadership opportunities, however taking the step up into leadership roles is rarely an organic process. Development strategies are required to ensure the capability, suitability and relevance of experience of internal candidates that will lead to swift, efficient and smooth transition into leadership roles.

While advancements in technology have enabled cross-border working across international organisations, internal barriers remain such as language, culture, local knowledge.

An effective succession plan would aim to address these internal barriers to progress, efficiency and collaboration.

Global organisations can facilitate effective succession planning by aligning talent management with global mobility. Supporting future leaders to develop the requisite leadership skills and global perspective through for example first-hand experience of working overseas.

The benefits are compelling:

  • Return on investment of retaining senior employees
  • Lower cost of developing and retaining internal talent compared to recruitment
  • Recognising value and contribution of employees through overseas opportunities and enhanced career progression
  • Knowledge sharing across the organisation
  • Cultural enrichment
  • Improved internal linguistic capability
  • Encouraging internal networking and cross-organisation relationship building

Global Mobility in Practice

Selecting the right internal candidates is a crucial first step of an effective succession programme. Any future leader development programme should incorporate criteria relating to international elements of leadership roles, which could include linguistic capability, ability to carry out the assignment, eligibility in respect of immigration rules to work overseas and even the willingness or otherwise to spend time abroad.

There should also be clarity of objectives for employees taking part in an overseas assignment. If the purpose is development of leadership potential, what is the employee expected to achieve during and as a result of an overseas assignment?

There are various types of mobility organisations may consider as part of a succession planning strategy, each requiring varying degrees of investment and time, and potential for return on investment:

Business travel:

Frequent business travel is a common requirement for senior personnel of mutinational organisations. Opportunities to meet counterparts in overseas parts of the organisation, to visit headquarters or regional outposts, to handle a crisis ‘on the ground’.

The value of business visits however, given the ‘in and out’ nature of time-limited stays, offers relatively little scope for meaningful exposure to parts of the organisation in other parts of the world.

It is also important to note that while business travel may appear to be less of an administrative burden on organisations than other, longer-term mobility options, there are considerable compliance risks of business travel. This is particularly the case where employees are not subscribing to an organisation’s global mobility policy, however unintentional this may be.

Short-term assignments:

Shorter-term overseas assignments can offer a balance for all parties. The employee gains experience without the need to uproot their family, while the employer can satisfy a business need such as development for succession planning.

Crucial to making short term assignments work is supporting the employee in advance of the assignment. Training to prepare for the change in culture and local ways of working; clarity around the specifics of the assignment – duration, expectations on the employee, and expectations on the employer; flexibility around family visits and visits back home; support for the employer’s family and their specific circumstances during the employee’s absence.

The key is communication between employer and employee. Be open about expectations and the support that is on offer to make the assignment a success.

Job swaps:

To improve understanding of other parts of the business, job swaps are becoming increasingly popular for executive development. There are obvious commercial benefits of an effective job swap for future leaders. Improving processes, enhancing local knowledge, building relationships with overseas parts of the company.

From a mobility perspective, there are logistical complexities of arranging concurrent movement of two employees, and any dependants. With twice as much to do, twice as much can go wrong!

Effective immigration compliance processes are crucial, as is knowledge of relevant local immigration rules. Planning, keeping both employees informed of application status, ensuring employees provide all required information by the right time is critical.

Longer term assignments:

The cost and level of support required to ensure the success of a relocation or long term assignment are deterring organisations from investing as frequently in this form of mobility. However, among senior executives there remain instances where relocation is required, perhaps to regional or global headquarters.

In instances of long term assignments, it is of course important to go beyond the visa application process, and offer holistic support to the employee and their dependants. This could mean relocating a spouse and children, arranging suitable accommodation, schooling, childcare, access to medical care.

Relocating to another part of the world can be a stressful experience. A well-supported employee is less likely to cut their stay short or pull out altogether – scenarios which employers should seek to avoid due to cost, impact on return on investment and failure to meet the commercial objective of the assignment.


Throughout the overseas assignment process, a key objective should be around retention of talent, to maximise return on investment.

Done well, this means going beyond completion of the assignment itself by providing support to employees following their return from assignment.

What are the next steps for the employee once they have returned? Have they met the assignment objectives? How has the assignment impacted their career progression? Is further support required for returning dependants?

The final stage requires sufficient attention to avoid a scenario of a senior employee leaving the organisation following return, rendering the employer unable to benefit from the investment.

Need advice on enhancing your approach to global mobility for succession planning?

For multinational companies, mobility of senior talent can be a valuable contributor to effective succession planning.

While investment is required in the movement of employees, the wider benefits in terms of employee satisfaction, improving capability and improving employee retention are there for the taking.

We are experienced business immigration advisers to multinational companies. To discuss your global mobility strategy or any immigration compliance needs, please contact us.


Founder and Managing Director Anne Morris is a fully qualified solicitor and trusted adviser to large corporates through to SMEs, providing strategic immigration and global mobility advice to support employers with UK operations to meet their workforce needs through corporate immigration.

She is a recognised by Legal 500 and Chambers as a legal expert and delivers Board-level advice on business migration and compliance risk management as well as overseeing the firm’s development of new client propositions and delivery of cost and time efficient processing of applications.

Anne is an active public speaker, immigration commentator, and immigration policy contributor and regularly hosts training sessions for employers and HR professionals

About DavidsonMorris

As employer solutions lawyers, DavidsonMorris offers a complete and cost-effective capability to meet employers’ needs across UK immigration and employment law, HR and global mobility.

Led by Anne Morris, one of the UK’s preeminent immigration lawyers, and with rankings in The Legal 500 and Chambers & Partners, we’re a multi-disciplinary team helping organisations to meet their people objectives, while reducing legal risk and nurturing workforce relations.

Contact DavidsonMorris
Get in touch with DavidsonMorris for general enquiries, feedback and requests for information.
Sign up to our award winning newsletters!
We're trusted